BIKE COMMUTING 

What is being done to make it better?

Folks over at the Ada County Highway District were surprised when they added up costs and determined that they were spending $1.6 to $1.7 million a year on making biking on county roads easier. ACHD spokesperson Craig Quintana said beginning in the late 90s changes were made to road design including bike pathways, designated bike lanes and wider safety shoulders. In 1996 there were 57 miles of bikeways in Ada County. By October 2003 that number had doubled. ACHD's five-year work program shows that over the next five years at least 20 more bike lane miles are in the works.

"When we make bikeways and lanes on streets we don't just paint a stripe," said Quintana. "We actually widen and redesign the street to make it safer for bicyclists."

A new ACHD Bicycle Advisory Committee created earlier this year made up of community bicyclists and chaired by ACHD's Assistant Traffic Engineer John Wasson hopes to develop public input regarding planning of additional bike lanes. They will be looking at gaps in Ada County's BikeWay path system and trying to link bike paths for more continuous routes.

"It doesn't make sense to add a bike lane to Fairview Avenue, it's already congested with a high volume of automobiles," said Wasson. "We look for parallel alternatives and focus on those."

The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) is working to increase alternative means of transportation too. "We have a goal of 25 percent of all transportation using alternative means including buses, bikes and pedestrian," said Patricia Nilsson, COMPASS principal transportation planner. "It's always been part of the long-range plans," she said.

Mark McNeese, senior transportation planner and bicycle/pedestrian coordinator for the Idaho Transportation Department is primarily concerned with state highways and interstate highways. Idaho is one of the few states that allow bicyclists on interstates. McNeese said that he gets about 300 requests a year from bicyclists hoping to travel through the state and he thinks that represents just a "tip of the iceberg."

"More and more there are local highway jurisdictions," McNeese said. "Local jurisdictions are getting more sidewalks built and more shoulders which is good for cyclists. I've fought this battle hard for 10 years and things are changing in the state as far as advocacy goes."

Coeur d'Alene recently approved a bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee and Sandpoint recently appointed a pedestrian traffic committee. A statewide cycling advocacy group, the Gem State Bicycling Alliance, was formed to look at issues affecting the state overall and helping locally based advocacy groups.

"One thing about cyclists is that when a local transportation district wants information about cycling they don't come forward. But a local cycling advocacy group inspires and involves the cyclists in a community," said McNeese. "Advocacy helps. When you see more people out cycling to work or for pleasure it shows people that they can do it."

A local bike advocacy group created last fall and incorporated as a nonprofit in January is hard at work. Ryan Henbest, one of the founders of the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance advocacy group, said the group was founded to improve and secure better bike pathways, advocate bike commuting and educate the public about road use. He said they reach out through events like the Bike Swap, Earth Day and at events during National Bike Week. Several group members are also part of other committees and groups such as the ACHD Bicycle Advisory Committee.

It's not hard to bike to work. According to the Boise Bike Week Web site (www.boisebikeweek.com) and common sense there are great reasons for it. It's good exercise. It's cheap. It's good for the environment and the community. While it's a good thing, people still find objections.

"It's dangerous" is a common excuse. With a helmet and proper planning, routes can be found to avoid traffic. "It takes too long" is another common excuse. Some cyclist find that their commute takes even less time on a bike, but even if it takes longer, consider it part of your daily workout. If your commute is really long, consider a hybrid commute using Commuteride, which allows you to put your bike on the front of the bus.

Other excuses such as not owning a bike or that your clothes will be wrinkled when you get to work are simply that—excuses. Many local companies, city, state and federal employers offer incentives such as gift certificates and bus fares for commuters. Check to see if your employer offers incentive programs for you to bike to work. Commuteride will even conduct a free survey of your company's commuting needs and provide options for employees. With the savings from gas, gym fees and the knowledge that you are doing your part in reduction of traffic and its associated ills such as pollution and congestion you will be happier. We promise.

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